I stroll aimlessly on the deserted mall road in Manali on a chilly November morning. My mind is wandering far away, not knowing where to go next. The days have passed in a daze, coming back from a random trip to Parvati Valley.
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There is no electricity in the evening and the guesthouse guy serves me dinner in the darkness. I ask him to sit with me for some chit-chat; solo travel can get pretty boring and you might need somebody to just talk. Man is a social animal after all. I’ve been road tripping for more than a month. He tells me ‘I am from Mandi.’ I know Mandi is just an euphemism for some village that is his home nearby. I peruse and he says a funny word ‘Kandi-Khatola’. Yes, that’s the name of his village and its apparently on the way to Prashar Lake. He gives me a brief outline of how to reach Prashar Lake.
Thats all the information a person like me needs. The joy of not knowing and arriving with a clear mind helps you know more about a place than detailing the journey beforehand. The room that I’m staying in is cosy and cheap. The guy who holds the lease has hardly two weeks left on his contract and whatever amount I give is welcome. I wake up before sunrise to reluctantly pack my bag and huge suitcase while marvelling at the sun rays illuminating the peaks.
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An old man at the bus stand tells me to sit in the non-stop bus to Kullu if I want to reach faster. Kullu is one place where the bus station is bang in middle of the town and going there invariably wastes a lot of time. I have no choice. At the Kullu bus stand, I get into a bus that meanders across town and takes forever to cover the ten kilometres to the village of Bajaura.
I ask for some aloo paranthas at the dhaba and find out if there is a bus to Prashar Lake from here. I am told the only direct bus is from Mandi. The distance to Prashar Lake from Bajaura is 50 kilometres and I do not know how I am going to make it. While trying to hitch a ride, an elderly gentleman asks me where I am going. I say Prashar Lake, as a helping gesture he says that he knows the PWD rest house caretaker and calls him to inform him that ‘his friend’ is coming and that no money be charged from me.
Some construction work on the road is going on, a truck gives me a lift only to drop me in the middle of nowhere. Small villages pass by and I am told that two of the six bramha temples in Himachal are on this route. I walk to the village of Rahala and eat some drab food at the only tea shop in town. There are very few vehicles that come this way and no tourists either. My spirit stoops low. It is almost one o clock and I haven’t even reached halfway. A Tata pickup is headed to Khatola and the driver wants some company. He is glad to know I am from Rajasthan and tells me that he went road tripping to Sri Ganganagar and other places in Rajasthan many years ago.
I am delighted to see a bus after having covered 2 kilometres on foot. The bus is going till Baggi. It is very cold. We are in a valley and the warmth of the sun has already gone. From Baggi, there are two ways to reach Prashar Lake. Route number one is a trek of 6 kilometres and the other is a scarcely motorable road for 17 kilometres. I see that the climb is uphill and my suitcase is heavy. I prefer to take the other option of the road. There are drunk boys in Baggi village and start troubling me the moment they realise I am a tourist and not willing to pay an unreasonable amount to reach Prashar. They are asking for six hundred rupees. I am willing to pay three hundred.
One of them tries to misbehave with me. One abuses me. Some kind villagers hold my hand and take me away. I start the long walk. It is 17 kilometres. I feel crazy. I try to drag the suitcase but the rocky path causes the wheels to get stuck. The houses of Baggi village are spread over a long area and the villagers tell me there is a solitary dhaba midway enroute Prashar. The winding road is a gradual incline with some sharp ascents. I’ve hardly covered three kilometres and the clock is nearing four. Some school kids join me in lifting the suitcase. It is a funny sight. We do a little dance amid all the adversity. They think I am mad.
I spot a man hurtling down the slopes on a motorcycle and stop him. He is the caretaker of the PWD Rest House and the man who was told of my arrival. I am told that two more kilometres away is a jeep of Mr. chachu, who is sick. He can drop me to Prashar if I can manage to persuade him. The kids that have been awesome company move ahead. I am all alone again. The light is fading and high mountain walls on the side seem daunting. I feel like I’ve made a mistake. The expectation of ethereal joy keeps me going.
I finally reach the dhaba, like a coolie carrying a very heavy suitcase on his head. The jeep driver is half drunk but agrees to drop me after knowing that I’ve met the PWD caretaker on the way. The path that has been rugged till now completely changes. There are dense trees, the road is passing through a forest. The fragrant smell of nature and wood is intoxicating and brings a smile to my lips. The curves become sharper as the road gains altitude to climb higher. We are above the mountains and have left the valleys behind.
The sun has put on a show with some spellbinding views. I try and click pictures from the bumpy ride. Chachu has driven surprisingly well considering he was tipsy. He asks me if I like it. I tell him ‘What is life if not a great adventure.’ Would there be fun if we knew what we were doing?
The valley is painted in orange and yellow. The setting is magical. The cute building that is the PWD Rest House is visible on our left. Chachu knows the other caretaker who’s managing the place in the absence of the original caretaker. I am given a comfortable room with a locked bathroom and told that the pipes have already frozen. We walk toward the lake in the evening for some unbelievable views. It is half a kilometre away from the rest house. There is a floating island in the lake. The dinner is fabulous and they refuse to take money from me because of the phone call.
There is a small dhaba and tea shop near the lake. The simple food of Rajmah-chawal (lentil & rice) tastes heavenly. The golden colours of the evening appear better with a glass of chai in one hand and camera in another. Prashar Lake is famous for the three storied pagoda type temple with wood carving structures, balanced on 12 wooden pillars. It is an architectural marvel and a testimony to the history, heritage and culture of Himachal Pradesh.
A stray mountain dog roams. This feels like home.
Have you ever hitchhiked your way to glory?
Good to know :
Among the many options to stay in Prashar/Prashar Lake; the PWD Rest House and the Forest Rest House (FRH) with a newly built annex are the best. Some old rooms of The FRH are entirely done in aromatic Deodhar wood and the sit-outs have picture perfect views of the mountains. Prior booking is recommended in the high season when pilgrims from all over Himachal throng to this temple. The only alternate accommodation is a solitary dhaba (all year round) with bare necessities to ensure you don’t freeze to death. Lots of temporary shelters spring up in the main summer season. The temple committee has constructed many ‘Sarais’ or dwellings close to the lake and those can also be considered if you want to soak in the tranquil atmosphere. For the best views of Prashar Lake, climb to the highest point on the eastern side.
The last atm is at Bajaura.
There is one direct bus everyday from Mandi to Prashar Lake and back.